Asia

Chris Hipkins profile: who is New Zealand’s next prime minister after Jacinda Ardern?


New Zealand’s incoming prime minister, Chris Hipkins, steered the country through the Covid pandemic. An experienced career politician with a “fixer” reputation, he has a new storm to navigate: reversing Labour’s months-long polling slide and recapturing voters in the wake of Jacinda Ardern’s shock departure.

Hipkins, 44, was the minister primarily charged with designing and implementing New Zealand’s Covid response. It made him a household name for many New Zealanders – he was a regular fixture at daily press conferences alongside Ardern.

While the elimination strategy came under fire from some overseas commentators and spawned conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine campaigns, it did allow New Zealand to broadly protect its population until the vast majority were vaccinated, achieving record-low rates of death, serious illness and economic disruption. It is a period that Hipkins will be hoping New Zealanders still look on with pride, especially when the general election comes around on 14 October.

The pandemic period of high pressure, constant media appearances and intense public scrutiny will have helped prepare Hipkins for the role of prime minister.

Around the government halls he is known as “Chippy” – a nickname derived from his initials, but which may have stuck thanks to an upbeat, slightly schoolboyish demeanour. Hipkins has a reputation in parliament for a sense of humour, fast quips and self-deprecating streak – attributes that New Zealanders tend to favour in their political leaders.

Asked by reporters to introduce himself to the country, he said, “maybe I don’t have the best fashion sense in parliament” – referencing an unexpected television interview on Friday where he appeared clad in a baseball cap, hoodie and reflective, wraparound glasses. Asked whether he was the first ginger-haired prime minister, he responded: “It’s about time we had a ginger at the top.”

Over the years, a mixture of off-the-cuff moments and pastry-based culinary preferences have propelled him into viral moments and global headlines. He was named by then-speaker Trevor Mallard as the MP he’d least like to be placed in lockdown with, as he “appears to eat nothing much more than sausage rolls and Diet Coke”. As police minister, he drew international attention for a birthday cake constructed entirely of sausage rolls – a creation he said was a product of “police intelligence-gathering reach[ing] new heights”.

During the Covid response, he became a meme after a televised national announcement in which he recommended New Zealanders go outside and “spread your legs”. The minister leaned into the gaffe, embracing the catchphrase “spread your legs, not the virus” as a pandemic health message.

Quips aside, in personality Hipkins is a very different politician from Ardern. Where she eschewed political mudwrestling to advocate “relentless positivity” and a “politics of kindness” on the campaign trail, Hipkins is known as a more cutthroat player, particularly in the debating chamber. Two terms spent on the opposition benches may serve him in the tight election campaign to come, where he will be required to take on Christopher Luxon, the leader of the National party.

Hipkins launched his involvement in politics as president of the Victoria University Students’ Association and was arrested on parliament grounds for a protest against education policy in 1997. A stickler for process, and unafraid of political battles, Hipkins fought the arrest in a 12-year legal battle, eventually securing an apology and compensation for protesters. He said the events of that day were “a defining moment for me” that spurred him into parliamentary politics.

“I’ve always enjoyed the cut and thrust of politics,” he told the Guardian in a 2021 interview, admitting that in opposition he was likely “one of the more aggressive Labour MPs”. Leading the Covid response had tempered that, he said. “I’ve become a much more moderate, conciliatory person as a result of doing this. It forces you to recognise that no human beings are perfect, that in any system there are going to be weaknesses, people are going to make mistakes.

“I have become a bit more pragmatic than I maybe was previously – maybe even a bit kinder, to take a leaf out of the prime minister’s book.”

Since Ardern’s leadership began, Hipkins has been widely regarded as a trusted member of her inner circle, and was handed meaty portfolios in education, policing, Covid response, public service, and as leader of the house. He and Ardern have worked closely together since the outset of their political careers: both were young operatives and advisers under the Clark government, and they entered parliament as opposition MPs in the same 2008 cohort. When he was married in 2020, it took place at Ardern’s official residence, Premier House, and Hipkins said at the time that the prime minister had agreed to host the event. The finance minister, Grant Robertson, was best man.

Hipkins is unlikely to bring the star power that Ardern possessed. Instead he will hope to embody straight-talking, core Labour values: being born, raised in and now member of parliament for the Hutt Valley, a region outside Wellington with lower incomes, higher poverty rates and rougher edges than the capital.

He said on Saturday: “I’m a boy from the Hutt. My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I, and my commitment and politics is to make sure that we provide opportunities for all Kiwis who want to work hard to be able to work hard and get ahead and provide a better life for themselves and for their families.”

Hipkins married partner Jade in 2020 and has two children. Thanking his family and his team for their support, he said he was humbled and honoured to take on the role of prime minister. “It’s a big day for a boy from the Hutt.”





READ SOURCE

See also  Cronyism threatens Malaysia’s economic recovery, Muhyiddin warned

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.